Madison, Wis., Looks to Allow Lyft, Uber to Operate Legally

Madison police Capt. Carl Gloede said drivers for those services should cease operation immediately or face fines.

A Lyft car dons the company's famous bumper mustache. Lyft hopes these traveling pink emblems grow as they work with insurers to prevent roadblocks to the ride sharing industry. Flickr/Raido Kaldma

Fuzzy pink mustaches affixed to the front bumper of a car is the sign of one of Madison’s newest transportation options — and one of its latest controversies.

The mustache is the signature look of Lyft, a smartphone application that allows people to order rides from others willing to provide transportation in their personal vehicle, for a fee exchanged through the app and split between the driver and the company.

Lyft and a similar service, Uber, have operated in other cities but just recently launched in Madison. The companies’ presence in the area has raised the eyebrows of city officials and prompted pushback from Madison’s four licensed cab companies.

Dozens of people turned out for a public input session held Wednesday by the Madison Transit and Parking Commission, where drivers from Lyft and a state manager from Uber touted the safety of their services, saying they require background checks, provide drivers and customers with a photo of each other and carry out financial transactions without cash.

But questions about insurance liability and complaints from licensed cab companies about the potential for an unfair playing field were front and center.

“(These companies and their supporters) tell people that they’re not taxi companies and should not be bound by the same rules as the cab industry. As I understand in their business model, they contact drivers to pick up customers on demand and transport them throughout the city for a fee. My question is how is that not a taxi service?” said Jason Glomp, a member of Union Cab’s board.

Glomp and others argued that the services should be subject to the same licensing standards and insurance practices as Madison’s existing cab companies to promote safety for drivers and passengers and to ensure fairness.

It became clear Wednesday that as Lyft and Uber currently exist, the city agrees with Glomp. At the meeting, the City Attorney’s Office said it believes the two companies are currently operating in violation of the city’s taxi ordinance, and Madison police Capt. Carl Gloede said drivers for those services should cease operation immediately or face fines.

But there is demand for the convenience offered by Lyft and Uber. James Lloyd, director of the nonprofit group 100 State, said he regularly uses taxis and felt there is a “massive gap” in services between Madison and other cities. Lloyd said he believes a lack of competition has created a lower-quality experience for users.

Phil Anderson, general manager of Green Cab, said the extreme cold this winter has made wait times longer. But he said that over the course of the year, particularly the slower summer months, he felt Madison’s four cab companies, collectively, were probably the appropriate size for the city.

Commissioners expressed other concerns about potential discrimination of riders with disabilities or who can’t afford smartphones or don’t have credit cards.

Ald. Scott Resnick, 8th District, said he is working on legislation that would allow the companies to coexist with traditional taxi services through regulation.

©2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)